Tuesday, February 28, 2017

You Can't Trust the Pictures You See

My daughter, Gabrielle, is taking a video game designing class. One of her assignments was to alter a picture using Photoshop. She had to remove the tree from the original photo and insert herself in its place and make it look seamless. After she turned in her completed assignment, the teacher texted her    a gushing compliment (it started with "OMG!") and asked if she could use Gabrielle's picture as an example for all her classes.

Obviously, I'm proud of my daughter for doing such a good job. Obviously, it just reinforces my belief that you can no longer trust anything you see.

Here is the original photo with the tree:

Here is Gabrielle's completed assignment:

At first glance, you wouldn't be struck by anything out of the ordinary in this photo. There's nothing jarringly incorrect about the direction of the light source or how the shadows fall across her body or across the ground. It would be easy to assume this is a real photo if you didn't have a practiced eye for altered photos (which I don't) or if you didn't closely inspect the shadows themselves (which I did only because I knew it was doctored).

In other news, Sophia and Elannah are doubles for the same part in their high school play, which opened last night. They were both cast as Marcy in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (click here to see an example of Marcy's big solo)

Sophia and Elannah, are, fortunately, fairly non-competitive with each other, but this is Sophia's final year of high school, so Elannah can reign supreme in musical theater next year as the only representative of the Aurora family. Meanwhile, there was a tiny bit of squabbling over who got to perform on which nights, but they worked it out without resorting to bloodshed. So, on Friday, we'll go see Sophia as Marcy, and on Saturday, we'll go see Elannah.

Curious about how my oldest daughter, Sian, is doing? She's had an interesting time since she got back from Ukraine.

She found herself a full-time job in August and then started dating a lovely young man last September, and she was over the moon because this young man had all the qualities she wanted in a future husband. There was even talk of marriage after they both finished up the next semester at BYU. Sian was completely and utterly twitterpated, totally gaga, flying high with love and beautiful dreams of a bright future. Husband and I also approved of him as a future son-in-law and future father to loads of our grandchildren.

And then he broke up with her right after Christmas, stating that he just wasn't ready for a really serious relationship yet.

Fair enough. You wouldn't want to marry someone who was going to resent the fact that he was married to you, even if he was the one who first started talking about getting married. But, understandably, it broke Sian's heart, and I spent a few weeks helping her put her shattered heart and dreams of her future into perspective before she had to head back to school. We had many long talks and many sessions where I just let her cry her heart out.

Fortunately, she's been able to deal with her grief and begin moving on with her life. She's even put herself back into the dating pool and has made a concerted effort to be social and make friends. She decided to change her major from linguistics to English teaching with an ESL minor, and, for fun, she took a music composition class, which she absolutely loves. She's doing well, and we talk all the time.

I love how as my daughters have grown, our relationships have changed into friendships. I still play the "Because I'm Your Parent and It's My Job to Teach You Important Things" card with my two younger daughters--and especially with my even younger sons--but I'm encouraged that my two oldest are good, decent people. They are independent and make good choices, but they still feel free to call me and their dad and ask for advice or just tell us about their lives. All my kids are unique, but they all know they are completely loved by their parents, and that whatever struggles they have to go through, they know we're there to support them. That thought comforts me when my brain plays all my parental failures over and over in my head.

Monday, February 27, 2017


Things I Collect on Purpose

If you need me, I'll be in the study. 

1. Books
    a. Cookbooks
    b. Books on subjects I wish I had time and money to master (domestic arts like sewing, upholstery, gardening, interior decoration, etc.)
    c. Books on crochet (afghans, crochet blocks and edgings, bedspreads, crocheted wire jewelry)
    c. Books on subjects I have had to write about extensively in my freelance writing work (plumbing, home repairs, personal injury law, divorce law, car repair, real estate, etc.)
    d. Books on disappearing cottage crafts (i.e. lute making, building a homemade non-electric lathe, building a house by yourself)
    e. Books on miscellaneous subjects that catch my fancy (quantum physics, energy healing, history, health and nutrition, writing, architecture, psychology, etc.)
    f. Fiction (i.e. classic English literature, young adult fiction, books I loved when I was a kid, etc.)
    g. Blank books
    h. Books of house plans
    i. Music books (piano, cello, guitar, voice) and sheet music (piano, solo voice, choral)
2. Magazines
3. Pens
5. Odd and quirky thrift store art
6. Perfume
7. Empty cardboard toilet paper rolls and paper towel rolls -- how many times do those come in handy, am I right?
8. Plain white ceramic mixing bowls, soup bowls, mugs, and plates
9. Spices
10. Bottles and boxes of ingredients for foreign dishes I don't make all the time but that are essential to have on hand if I do (i.e. various curry pastes, fish sauce, pho seasonings, rice vinegar, seaweed, rice wrappers, etc.)
11. Shoes
12. Personal letters my friends and family wrote to me when snail mail was still a thing, including the original copies of letters I wrote to my dear friend and former college roommate (who sent them to me recently after making digital copies of them in order to reduce the amount of stuff she has to store while her job takes her around the world)
13. Cheap jewelry

Things I Collect on Accident

Bath salts: a great idea for re-gifting.

1. Bath bombs and bath salts (these are gifts, but I can't remember the last time I had a bath instead of a shower)
2. Ingredients for experiments that are cheaper to buy in bulk (i.e. 10 pounds of diatomaceous earth, five pounds of magnesium chloride flakes, sunflower lecithin, a gallon of vegetable glycerin, boxes of Borax, etc.)
3. Jars
4. Beads
5. Yarn
6. Credit card offers with sensitive information that need to be shredded
7. Fabric remnants

Things I Used to Collect but Never Had the Space to Display

Beautiful milk jugs just mock the lactose intolerant among us.

1. Ceramic milk jugs

Things I Collect Digitally

The key is to remember where you put all your thumb drives for safe-keeping.

1. All the yearly anthologies of Backwoods Home Magazine
2. My painstakingly typed up collection of all my journal entries from the time I was six years old
3. Digital copies of all the letters my mother wrote me after I moved away from home

Bottom line: I'm planning a massive yard sale when the weather gets warm enough. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Rumination in Four Parts

Part I

Life is funny, no?

The ebbs, the flows. The ups, the downs. The twists and turns. Just when you're sitting on top of the world, your throne is yanked out from under you. And when you're at your lowest and most desperate, a guide appears to lead you back up to the light.

I'm not saying I'm currently on top of the world or in the lowest valley at the moment. I'm just tired. I face yet one more setback just as I am presented with a possible opportunity. Both feel exhausting.

Part II

On Sunday, I was sitting in church. It was Fast Sunday, which is a day in the month when you are invited to refrain from eating for two consecutive meals (health permitting) and donate the money you would have spent on food to those in need. During your fast, you spend time in prayer, meditation, and scripture study. It's amazing how fasting can enhance your ability to feel the Spirit--and not just because you're light-headed and hungry.

On Fast Sunday, anyone in the congregation who feels moved to do so can stand up and bear testimony during the Sacrament Meeting.

I was sitting quite comfortably on my bench, smug with the knowledge that I was teaching a lesson in Relief Society (and that I had remembered that fact with enough time to actually prepare!) and, therefore, didn't feel it necessary to take away from someone else's chance to bear their testimony.

But as I sat there, I started thinking about what Sun Tzu said in his book, The Art of War: "If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained, you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle."

Why that suddenly popped into my head, I couldn't say. Yet, suddenly, I could feel the Spirit move me (warm feeling, heart beginning to pound) to get up and speak about that. That's not your normal testimony fodder, so I just tried to shake it off. But it kept coming at me in waves.

"Dang it," I whispered to Husband. "I have to get up there, but I don't know what the heck I'm going to say. Sorry in advance."

After I walked up to the pulpit, I stood in front of the congregation and tried to catch my breath. Usually, I have little fear speaking in public. Sure, I get butterflies in anticipation, but I never feel paralyzed with fear, even when faced with a very large room full of people. So I breathed for a moment, and then I opened my mouth and started speaking. I spoke about the need to understand the enemy--in this case, the enemy of all mankind: Satan. In knowing the enemy, we can predict some of his actions and spot his propaganda. Satan laces truth with fatal lies. What he says often sounds so good, so true, so wonderful. But almost always, his propaganda includes the lies that a) there is no God, or b) if there is a God, there certainly is no devil who opposes him and wishes harm to mankind, and c) humankind can ascend or become more and greater without the need for the atoning sacrifice and grace of Jesus Christ. Then I bore my testimony of Jesus Christ as the only savior, the only way to gain eternal life. In order to defeat the enemy, each of us must know Jesus Christ.

I wasn't eloquent. I didn't feel like what I said at the pulpit was profound or moving to anyone--not that bearing testimony is about you as a speaker; it's about the message. But I had to say it, so I did. And then I sat down, feeling decidedly foolish. Husband rubbed my back and whispered that I'd done a fine job. I appreciated it, but I didn't believe it.

Others got up to speak, and as I sat there, contemplating why I had had to get up and speak about that particular subject, the thought suddenly came to me that my thoughts were a piece of a larger puzzle, which was being put together as others also bore the testimonies in their hearts. I felt comforted by that. I listened to the things others said as they bore their testimonies, and I was touched by the truthfulness of what they had to say. All of our testimonies built on each other, like those puzzle pieces coming together to create a bigger picture.

Part III

As I'm sure you've experienced, knowing what you need to do and actually doing it can be difficult. It's especially difficult if the thing you need to do is scary. In my case, I fear failure. I often succumb to the false idea that everything rests on my shoulders, and when the problem is financial in nature, failure could have serious consequences. So when I allow that false idea to consume me, the fear naturally grows until I am overwhelmed and paralyzed.

I've dealt with fear before, sometimes more successfully and sometimes more poorly. I find it is always best to name it. Once you name it, it loses its enervating power over you, and you can start working your way around it. In this particular case, fear is unnecessary. I'm not going to hurt myself if I fail, yet I find that, while I am generally laid back about many things, I can be intensely perfectionist about certain things. That perfectionism creates an aura of fear, sometimes the paralyzing kind.

Here's the issue: I've been working as a freelance writer for years. I spent about six months as a full-time writer for a startup digital marketing company, but they laid me off when revenue went down. Then they hired me as a contractor, and I've been doing that for another 18 months. They kept me busy enough that I didn't have the brain power to take on other demanding clients. 

In January, they had no work for me. I don't know if they will have anything for me in February, either, as they have been less than communicative. I am not sure if they found cheaper writers or what, but here I face the pitfall of freelancing work: no work unless I seek it out. 

Ironically, maybe, it was in January that I started taking courses in website monetization, up-to-date SEO practices, and honing my content writing abilities. I would have used my sharpened skills for the contract work, but since that resource seems to have dried up, I have the excellent opportunity to work for myself. I can do for myself what my client is doing for their clients. The investment is small enough not to be an obstacle. All that remains is that I try.

Part IV

All these things that make me afraid, that make me stretch are part of the bigger puzzle. Would I be forced out of my comfort zone if everything always went my way? After all, the things that really count are already mine.

This is nothing you don't know. All of this is common knowledge. Sometimes I just have to work myself through it once more and remember how far I've come. It's easy to forget that you've already accomplished a great deal when you face that fear again, that fear that whispers, "You can't do this. You're not good enough." 

I just have to keep my eye on the opportunity and the prize. It will all work out.

Thanks for listening.